'Godfather of world music' passes away

Updated: 2012-12-13 15:12

By Muneeza Naqvi and Ravi Nessman in New Delhi (China Daily)

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'Godfather of world music' passes away

Indian musician Ravi Shankar performs during a concert in Bangalore, India. The Sitar virtuoso introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over an eight-decade career. He died on Tuesday, aged 92. [Photo/Agencies]

With an instrument perplexing to most Westerners, Ravi Shankar helped connect the world through music.

The sitar virtuoso hobnobbed with the Beatles, became a hippie musical icon and spearheaded the first rock benefit concert as he introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over nearly a century.

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From George Harrison to John Coltrane, from Yehudi Menuhin to David Crosby, his connections reflected music's universality, though a gap persisted between Shankar and many Western fans. Sometimes they mistook tuning for tunes, while he stood aghast at displays such as Jimi Hendrix's burning guitar.

Shankar, 92, died on Tuesday. A statement on his website said he died in San Diego, near his Southern California home with his wife and younger daughter by his side. The musician's foundation issued a statement saying that he had suffered upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery last week.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also confirmed Shankar's death and called him a "national treasure".

Labeled "the godfather of world music" by Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music.

"He was the legend of legends," Shivkumar Sharma, a noted santoor player who performed with Shankar, told Indian media. "Indian classical (music) was not at all known in the Western world. He was the musician who had that training ... the ability to communicate with the Western audience."

He also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh. To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of the popular US singer Norah Jones.

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